Musings Uncategorized

Recycling a tree, Saving a species

My latest contribution to the Charlotte News:

Vermont Tree Goods recycles largest elm in an effort to save species

Tai Dinnan | Contributor

Vermont Tree Goods supervised the taking down of The Vermont Elm, the largest elm tree in the Northeast on Nov. 1. This Bristol business will recycle the heirloom hardwood in their oversized sawmill and use the wood to build distinctive furniture. The 250 year old elm died from Dutch elm disease.Vermont Tree Goods will make a philanthropic gift to The Nature Conservancy based on how much product made from The Vermont Elm is sold. This will allow the conservancy to further their work to save the species by breeding and planting disease-resistant elms. Furniture made from The Vermont Elm will be on sale in the spring. Each purchase will honor the legacy of Charlotte’s remarkable tree and help establish new communities of resistant Elms for future generations to enjoy.


Before tree work began, a crowd of local tree huggers gathered at the Garrett residence Tuesday morning to celebrate the lives of two elders: The Vermont Elm and Charlotte’s Tree Warden Larry Hamilton who recently passed away. The crisp sunny morning created the perfect atmosphere for a ceremony filled with reverence and celebration.

Heather Furman, Executive Director of the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, spoke about her organization’s efforts to breed and plant disease resistant elms in Vermont and neighboring states. John Monks, owner of Vermont Tree Goods, announced his business’ plans to recycle the huge Vermont Elm, mill it into planks using their unique saw, kiln dry it, and bring to life once more as furniture.

img_1905Several local residents and friends of Larry including new Tree Warden Mark Dillenbeck, neighbor Vince Crockenberg, Vermont Tree Goods Sales and Marketing Director Tai Dinnan, and neighbor Erick Crockenberg then spoke of the inspiration they found in Larry’s life-long work in support of trees and forests. Larry spent the final chapter of his remarkable life in Charlotte where he served as tree warden, was active in a broad array of town activities, and started the Tree Fund that has enabled hundreds of trees to be planted along Charlotte roads.

4tree huggers.jpg

The crowd was then welcomed forward to give the tree one last group hug. Many adults were necessary to reach around the massive trunk that was nearly twenty feet around.

Tree work began at 10 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m. Most of the wood was transported to Vermont Tree Goods’ sawmill by the end of the day. An additional crane and truck was necessary to pick up and transport the bottom 20-foot-long section of trunk, weighing in at about 25,000 lbs.

The red elm’s wood is in great shape and is beautiful, with many rosy tones. Vermont Tree Goods hopes to have coasters made from the elm available by the end of this year. Furniture is expected starting in the spring of 2017. Email to put your name on the waiting list! Visit for more information and updates as product becomes available.



Summer reading

I always loved books, but I had much less time to appreciate them in college and while working in Somerville.  By taking the summer off, I freed up a lot of time for reading.  Some has been purely for entertainment, but I’ve also learned a lot from books, articles, and magazines this summer.

It’s hard to tell if novels just seem better because I have long uninterrupted sessions to spend with them, or if I’ve hit the jackpot and picked a great string of books to enjoy.  The following titles come highly recommended (if the story sounds interesting to you, that is): Shadow of the WindMe, Earl, and the Dying Girl, City of Thieves, 1Q84, and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.

I thought Michelle Obama’s American Grown did a great job of justifying the need for a continued surge in school gardens to unite communities, reconnect Americans with where food comes from, and increase physical activity.  The recipes, growing tips, and photos sprinkled throughout the book turned it into a beautiful and practical resource for school and community gardeners.

In a recent New York Times Opinionator, Tim Kreider articulates many of the reasons I’ve chosen to move to Vermont and take the summer off.  His The ‘Busy’ Trap article explores the culture of busyness that I felt overwhelmed by in the city.  As I planned my move, I felt like I was aware of a secret that others didn’t realize yet – one doesn’t always have to be busy to be a good staff member, a good friend, and a good citizen.

As Kreider writes, “The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it….Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”  This sentiment has proven to be true for me as I find clarity and energy while recharging this summer.  I know not many people are lucky enough to be able to retreat to such a beautiful place.  However, many friends who respond “Busy!” when asked “How are you?” do choose (and are overwhelmed by) their pace of life.

I’m currently making my way through the most recent Orion Magazine.  In it’s 30th year, the magazine is still producing incredibly well written pieces indended to create a philosophy of nature.  As the editorial explains, “When our philosophy of how to live helps us imagine a future worth having, we find the personal and cultural resolve to do what we know is morally correct.”  I love how the magazine tells individuals’ stories that always seem to build on each other to offer concrete and informed opinions about how to move forward in our world in a more resilient way.   Given my recent work in urban agriculture, it is no surprise that one of my favorite articles was Revolutionary Plots.   The line following the title sums up the article: “Urban agriculture is producing a lot more than food.”  Covering rural/urban divides, youth development, hunger, education, and community connections – this article tells a great story and definitely worth reading!

I’ve happily consumed many of the books on the top of my “to read” list, so new suggestions are welcome!  I’d love to hear what books, articles, or magazines you’ve loved this summer.

My love of books (and mud boots) goes way back, 1989
Also 1989, the first garden plot I was in charge of.
Get Involved! Personal Sustainability: How-To

Celebrate Biking: Fun Free Events!

As I plan a move to rural Vermont, I become more and more appreciative of how bikeable metro Boston has become.  I’ve lived here for 7 years without owning a car and have loved it!

May is bike month and this week is Bay State Bike Week and Bike to Work Week.  In other words, it’s the perfect time of year to take advantage of fun free events that bike advocacy groups are holding.  If you stored your bike for the winter, it’s time to dust it off, pump up your tires, and get back on the road!  Cities in the greater Boston area have been doing a lot to make biking easier – bike lanes and paths now connect most communities in the area.  This is the week to learn more about what’s going on in your community, check out your local bike advocacy organization, participate in the fun, and get psyched for a season of cycling.  Tons of events are posted in this calendar, and I’ve highlighted the fun ones in the Somerville area below:

-Read about the Rush Hour Race in which a biker beat a T rider and driver from Davis to Kendall.

Somerville Bike Committee’s Commuter Breakfast by Star Market and Petsi’s Pies on Beacon St. Thursday (moved due to rain) from 7:30-9am

Boston Bikes Bike Week Celebration Friday includes free breakfast!

Tours of the Mystic Basin Trails (11am) and Parks of Somerville (2pm) on Sunday.  These are awesome places for Somerville residents to know about, but it really does help to be shown the way by a guide your first time!

Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: Putting the Garden to Bed

This post is a bit overdue, we put the garden to bed the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Given this year’s temperatures, we could have done it on New Years Day!

Putting a vegetable garden to bed in the fall isn’t truly necessary, but it makes things much easier in the spring.  It will allow you to plant earlier, when soil is still quite wet from melting snow.  Your garden will also look cleaner and more attractive to neighbors and housemates in urban settings.

Choosing the right time can be tricky, especially when first frosts are coming later and later in the season.  This year we had our first frost on November 2 in the city, leaving everything but chard and kale limp and dead.  These hardy greens, however, often get thicker sweeter leaves in the late cool fall, so I like to leave my garden intact until I’ve finished eating them all.  However, I also try to get my garden tucked away for the winter before it gets so cold that outdoor work becomes a painful chore.

Once you’re ready to unearth your veggie plant stumps and skeletons, gather a shovel, pruners, soil rake, a place to put your compost-ready plants, and some sort of mulch.  Leaves offer a free option, but these often blow away.  Salt march hay or straw (make sure it doesn’t have seeds) stay in place better and can be bought from a garden store.  First, pull out all your old plants, chop them up into 4″ pieces and put them into the compost.  Keeping compost additions small will ease in turning your heap.  Next, turn over your soil to kill any small weed plants and aerate your soil.  This is a good time to add completed compost or soil amendments so that everything will be ready in the spring.  Once you have raked your soil flat, add a layer of mulch over the top.  It can help to water the entire garden after mulching it to weigh down the mulch and keep it from blowing away.  Mulch will prevent weed seeds from sprouting early in the spring and will keep soil from blowing away or eroding during the winter.

We sifted completed compost out of the bin, re-layered its contents with our new dead plants, tilled the new compost into our garden soil, and mulched the garden with leaves in about 45 minutes!  Plenty of time was left for some pick-up basketball during the unseasonably warm late November weekend.

Get Involved! Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Composting Webinar Online!

Ok, ok, I know my friends are probably sick of me talking about compost.  I have just a few more things to say about the topic, then I’ll leave it be for at least a few months…really!

First, last week’s webinar went really well.  Thanks to all who attended, especially those who asked such interesting and probing questions!  I could tell that everyone in the “room” was really thinking about getting started and thought deeply about addressing any concerns or roadblocks in their way.  Could’t attend?  Don’t worry!  You can view the webinar recording (click on the image below) to learn the basics of urban home composting and listen to the question and answer period that followed.  Thanks to the Environmental Leadership Program for making this available.

Click this image to check out the webinar!

Are you a more visual learner?  All examples of composting methods pictured in the webinar can be found at the Somerville Community Growing Center.  I’ll be leading the last of their compost trainings THIS Saturday June 25th!  If you live in Somerville or in the Boston area, I’d love to see you there.  I would also be very appreciative if you could pass along this free opportunity to folks you think might be interested.  Read below for more the details in a letter sent recently by the “Compost Caretaker Team:”

We’re happy that the Growing Center can facilitate Somerville residents in reducing their waste stream and creating healthy soil.  However, simply bringing your food waste to the center is not the only step!  If you wish to compost at the Growing Center, you must attend an FCGC volunteer orientation AND a Growing Center composting workshop. 

Our last COMPOSTING WORKSHOP of the season is on Saturday June 25 from 12-1 pm: Join Groundwork Somerville’s Gardens Coordinator for this practical workshop.  Have you wanted to learn about urban composting or had trouble managing a healthy compost bin? Come learn the basics of turning yard and food waste into a valuable soil amendment in one of the most rewarding ecological activities that fits well in the city. Learn a few simple guidelines and see a range of options. This is a great opportunity to trouble shoot, ask questions, and create a viable plan to reduce household or office waste! 

Our compost bins are managed by Friends of the Community Growing Center (FCGC) volunteers and the labor of those who wish to use the bins for their food scraps.   Thank you for your help!

Tai & Aileen
FCGC Compost Caretaker Team

Healey School Gardener hunts for "compost critters"

Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: Planning

Last fall, my friend did a few first steps so we’d be ahead of the game in the spring.  These included taking a soil sample and sending it off to the labs at UMass Amherst for testing, and purchasing a subsidized compost bin from the city.  He also collected nearly 20 yard waste bags of leaves that neighbors had left out for collection.  We wanted to make sure there were no dangerous heavy metals in the soil and would use the leaves later for compost and mulch.

In the depths of winter, everyone benefits from dreaming of the summer!  The arrival of several seed catalogs in my mailbox get me thinking about planning the garden.  I gather up my catalogs and we spend a cozy afternoon making the initial plans for the garden space.

The first step is to check out the yard. As flurries decorate my hat, I trudge through the deep snow and take some measurements with a big tape measure.  I try to remember that the bare branches of the tree will leaf out and shade the back corner of the yard, and that snow is covering thorny shrubs in some areas but grassy lawn in others.  The best garden beds are placed in locations that get sun for most of the day and don’t interfere with other uses of the space.

After selecting the best locations, my friend browses through the seed catalog and marks off the plants he likes.  We make a list of these selections, and add columns for seeds per square foot, yield per square foot, and desired yield.  That will allow us to decide how to divide up the beds.

Garden Planning Check List:

As you can see, we didn’t worry about making our brainstorm pretty or understandable for others!  On the sheet below, you can see a rough map of the back yard along with a table listing low and high range of square feet wanted for each veggie based on sun needs, plants per square foot, and estimated yield per plant.

Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: The Idea

Last fall, as the days grew short, CSA shares made their final distributions, and temperatures dropped, my friend came to me with a question.  He enjoyed his CSA share and was wondering if he should sign up again for the next season.  I mentioned that I thought he could grow most of the veggies he enjoyed in this year’s share in his small back yard and supplement his harvest with purchases at the farmer’s market.  I estimated that the cost of starting a garden and making a few purchases from the market would be less than that of a CSA share.  He was intrigued and open to trying it out for a season.

I realized I had never actually done personal back yard gardening in a city.  I grew up with a large garden in a rural community.  I maintain the school gardens in Somerville.  I’ve never had access to yard space while in the city, so I’ve grown choice vegetables along the edge of my of roof-covered porch.  Last year I even snuck chard and cherry tomatoes into my landlord’s flower beds.  I’d never, however, built and maintained raised beds for myself just outside my own back door. I was excited about the prospect of participating in my friend’s growing experiment!

After getting permission from the other users of his back yard space, we began to plan.  I would act as an adviser; he would be the garden manager and primary consumer.  I’d document the process so others could learn from our successes and challenges.  By the fall, we’d know how much work it really takes and how much we could realistically grow in 70 square feet of the  back yard. We welcome you to check in with our progress, offer tips or lessons you’ve learned from back yard gardening, and ask questions as we enjoy a season of urban gardening.  Maybe you can even start one for yourself!

Sungold tomatoes I was allowed to grow in my landlord’s flower bed last summer

Children and Nature Get Involved! Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes School Gardens

As the gardens go to sleep, a new blog sprouts

Welcome to GrowingStories, a compilation of memories, observations, pictures, and stories collected by Groundwork Somerville’s Gardens Coordinator. Follow GrowingStories to see an urban community through rural eyes, to be remember what it was like to be as curious as a third grader, to learn yummy new recipes for in-season veggies, to laugh out loud, to learn about fun upcoming events and volunteer opportunities, and to consider important issues in the fields of sustainable development, education, and urban agriculture.